Today’s most popular diet, hands down, is the Paleo diet.
According to Google, more people looking for information on the Paleo diet than any other diet by a factor of almost four! I’ve written quite a bit about the Paleo diet over the years, but never a simple primer for people who are completely new. So this is long overdue!
What’s the Paleo diet all about?
The Paleo diet is designed to mimic as closely as possible the diet of people living 10,000 or more years ago, in the Paleolithic era. Interestingly, the term Paleo diet coined by a staff member of the University of Colorado, Denver. The Paleo diet has a couple aliases: the caveman diet and the primal diet. While there are slight differences, the idea is the same. Eat like people used to, before modern farming and, most importantly, before all the junk was invented.
Why would anyone want to eat like a caveman?
The idea is that people living in the Paleolithic era did not have chronic diseases. They were not overweight. There was no diabetes, no Alzheimers, no cancer, no learning disorders, no “industrial disease” of any sort. This is in contrast to the idea that we are living longer now, and there are certainly a high proportion of people alive today in their 80s and 90s—perhaps a higher proportion than ever. While we really don’t know what sorts of diseases people dealt with that long ago, it’s unlikely their children were as sickly as our children are today. In fact, the generation born in 2000 is expected to have a 20 year shorter lifespan than their parents, due to diabetes and other chronic diseases brought on primarily by diet and lack of exercise.
What can you eat on a Paleo diet?
A Paleo diet allows for all foods that are non processed and can be bought pretty much in their original form, with two or three notable exceptions depending who you ask.
All meats are allowed. Grains like wheat, legumes like beans, and dairy products are not allowed except for a form of butter called ghee. While some say all vegetables are OK, others say you need to avoid members of the nightshade family, like potatoes, peppers, tomato and eggplant.
It’s often underemphasized, but most Paleo proponents will go to great lengths to get meat from animals raised in something like their natural environment, on pasture, with access to sunshine and fresh growing vegetables and even biodynamic soil. These more sustainable, traditional methods of farming impart numerous health benefits to the animals we raise, as well as to ourselves.
Can you eat foods like muffins, pancakes and crackers on a paleo diet?
Sure, as long as they are made with alternative flours. You can also have “pasta” made from alternative sources like edamame flour or rice flour, as well as sweet potatoes instead of potatoes, and and bread made from grains that don’t contain gluten.
Is it really necessary to avoid dairy, grains, legumes, tomatoes, potatoes and other nightshades?
I don’t recommend avoiding all those foods long term unless you have discussed doing so with a qualified allergy specialist, preferably an MD or other healthcare professional who was trained to understand the profound limitations of the tests available today, including the popular Cyrex brand. What’s more, you have been advised to avoid a number of foods, I recommend discussing this with a dietician because you may need to take special measures to avoid deficiencies.
Will a Paleo diet help me lose weight?
It can! Particularly if you are eating poorly and if, when you change to a Paleo diet, you reintroduce nutrients that you have not been getting. Of course, if the Paleo diet does not sound like something you would enjoy, there are many other ways to lose weight.